St Thomas Anglican Church at Avoca was Concentrated in 1842

Valley History History of the Fingal Valley Towns of the Valley Industry of the Valley Sport in History Membership page History Newsletter Transport in History Photos through History



Avoca Post Office
Here you can find a good display as well as information on the history of Avoca and the Fingal Valley



St Thomas Anglican Church


The old Avoca School House was the site for the first Catholic school in the Fingal Valley.
It was established in the 1840s





The township of Avoca is situated at the junction of the South Esk and St Pauls Rivers. Over the years the economy has been made up of farming, coal and tin mining, with an odd saw mill or two thrown in. Now, however, it is a quiet, sleepy, little town with only farming and a small sawmill remaining as major industries.
Early records show that James Gilligan was the first settler to the area in around 1820. He took up residence on his 1600 acre land grant a few miles east of the present township. Gilligan built a fine home overlooking the South Esk River and named his property “Clifton Lodge”.
It was here in 1843, whilst District Constable William Ward was a dinner guest of the Gilligan’s, bushrangers Riley Jeffs and John Conway raided the homestead. In the scuffle that followed Constable Ward was shot dead by one of the “misguided” men, and it is said the policeman’s ghost still lingers amongst the old ruins today.
In 1825 Colonial Government Surveyor John Helder Wedge surveyed the area and called it St Pauls Plains. But it wasn’t until the early 1830s, when a Police Barracks was built, that a township developed and took on the Irish name of Avoca.
Today the town still has a number of historic buildings including the local Union Hotel built in 1842, the former Rectory built in 1845 and the Parish Hall built around 1850.
The most significant of the old buildings in the township, however, is St Thomas Anglican Church, which is set on a hill on the northern side of the main road and overlooks both the St Pauls and South Esk Rivers. Its Romanesque Revival style is a design attributed to James Blackburn, the architect who built the stunning old church at Port Arthur. St Thomas was consecrated on the 8th May 1842.
Just a stone throw from town, on the Rossarden Road, is the old homestead of “Bona Vista”. This fine example of Georgian architecture was built in stages by Simon Lord Jr. Lord took up residence on the property after his marriage to Sarah Birch in 1831 and after living in a hut for some time, commenced building his home around 1840, but it appears to have not been completed until 1848, at which time 43 residents lived on the property, 18 of whom were convicts.
The homestead seems to be designed with an emphasis on security, as early settlers in this region were under constant threat of attacks from bushrangers and natives. An elaborate system of walled yards near the house offered some safety to valuable stock, which could be herded there when an attack was feared. The house itself is surrounded by by a stone wall some nine feet high and two feet thick.
As well as a place for social gatherings Bona Vista was also the scene of several tragic events. There was a bushranger attack in 1853, which saw a Constable shot dead. In 1862 the “Examiner” reported the murder of the child of a German couple, and in 1898 a young man is said to have been murdered on the homestead woodheap. His body was carried upwards of half a mile and dumped in the South Esk River. The victims name was “Beckitt” and the murderer was “Small”
Another significant settler to the area in the 1820s was a wealthy Irishman by the name of Roderick O'Connor. He arrived in Van Diemens land in 1824 and was soon appointed Lieutenant Arthur's Land Commissioner. He established two substantial properties: "Connorville" near Cressy and "Benham" at Avoca. "Benham" went on to become one of the largest privately owned properties in Tasmania.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Avoca gained national fame for what was headlined across the country as the “The Avoca Shoot”. This referred to the Avoca Wallaby Shoot, an annual event organized by the Avoca Football Club to raise funds for the club and at the same time cull the wallabies which were in plague proportion on properties in the Avoca area.
Hundreds of shooters would converge on Avoca each year where they would pay an entry fee to the footy club, head into the hills and if we believed the headlines in many Mainland papers “Mass slaughter would take place”.
The local newspaper, Valley Voice, reported in May 1970: “If nothing else, this shoot has, each year, brought quite a deal of fame, or more to the point notoriety, to this otherwise sleepy Fingal Valley town and especially to the Avoca football Club who runs it.”
One animal liberation deputation that approached Tasmanian Senator Reg Wright using words like: cruelty, inhumanity, sadistic and indiscriminate in relation to the shoot, lobbied him to organize a party to shoot the Avoca Football team. These people, however, were completely out of line and lacking in facts because the Tasmanian Animal and Birds Protection Board along with the R.S.P.C.A. condoned the shoot as a necessary culling program. Both of whom saw the shoot as being well organized and a far better alternative than other culling methods such as 1080 poison where all animals and birds are threatened and the carcasses left to rot; whereas in selective shooting only plague animals are targeted and the meat was either taken by the shooters or given to charity. But at the end of the day, animal lovers won their case; the shoot was stopped and Avoca Football Club folded soon after.
The couple of hundred people who still remain in the Avoca area display a community spirit as strong as the walls of Bona Vista. It is a spirit that has carried the community through the good as well as the bad and will ensure the survival of the town for generation after generation into the future.

Jim Haas



Back to Towns